Michael Steele, RNC Chairman (VIDEO)
See earlier updates below
Michael Steele became the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee on Friday after defeating his lone remaining challenger, Katon Dawson, on the sixth and final ballot. The margin was 91 votes for Steele, 77 votes for Dawson.
"This is awesome," Steele told the crowd. "I accept and appreciate all of you for the opportunity to serve as the next national chairman of our very proud, our very strong, and our very, very hard working Republican National Committee."
After touting the need for the party to reach out to different constituencies and geographic regions Steele punctuates his acceptance speech with a shot across the bow to the opposition.
"For those who plan to obstruct," he declares, "get ready to get knocked over." You hear that Tim Kaine?
Within minutes of his securing the chairmanship, Steele's biography had already become fertile ground for opposition researchers. As sent by various sources:
Steele tried portraying himself as a Democrat in his Senatorial race in 2006, handing out a "Democratic Sample Ballot" that implied he was a party member and distributing signs that read, "Steele: Democrat."
"Are Republicans now picking Democrats to run the RNC?" a DNC member asks. "Shouldn't they pick someone who was proud to run as a Republican?"
He was caught hiring homeless people to hand out literature (misleading literature at that) in African American neighborhoods during that same campaign.
"If that is their national strategy to broaden their appeal to minority voters," emailed another Democratic source, "it's going to get awfully expensive....."
Then there is the kooky biographical material, like Steele's repeated references to George W. Bush as his "homeboy."
More facts were pointed out by Judd Legum, Hillary Clinton's former research director and now heavily entrenched in Maryland politics:
"Steele compared stem cell research to Nazi experiments during the Holocaust."
"Steele was endorsed by Mike Tyson during his run for Senate. When Tyson, who used to be married to Steele's half sister, pleaded no contest to assault in Montgomery County in 1998, Steele was on hand to support him."
"Steele defended former Gov. Bob Ehrlich's decision to hold a $100,000 fundraiser at a country club that did not allow non-white members, saying that the club's membership's policies were "not an issue" because "I don't play golf."
Finally, a reader points out that Steele failed in his only attempt to pass the Maryland Bar exam. "This is a joke," the reader wrote, "isn't it? Michael (can't pass bar exam) Steele, about to become RNC chairman?"
And yet, for all this, Steele candidacy remains a far more difficult one to attack than that of his nearest competitors, in large part because of race. South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson, who finished second in the balloting, was a member of a whites-only country club and had many Democrats stunned that he could even get that close to a prominent national post. And now-former chairman Mike Duncan was a vestige of the Bush years.
Steele largely abandoned his moderate Republican roots in order to secure backing for the RNC post, but it is conservatives not Democrats who have taken issue with that path.
UPDATE, 3:30PM ET: Blackwell's endorsement of Steele's candidacy has paid off. The former Lt. Governor of Maryland vaulted ahead of Katon Dawson by a margin of ten votes in the fifth ballot. He finds himself six votes away from 85 needed for victory.
Saul Anuzis 20
With Anuzis announcing he is dropping his bid, that means that 20 committee members will determine the future chair of the RNC. Anuzis built his support structure primarily among non-southerners, which does not bode well for Dawson, the GOP Chair from South Carolina.
UPDATE, 3:08: Ken Blackwell drops out of the race and asks his supporters to back Micheal Steele, though there is nothing to ensure that those 15 individuals will follow suit.
"We must make good on the Party of Lincoln," Blackwell, an African-American says, underscoring the racial components of his decision.
UPDATE, 2:45: Sure enough, Katon Dawson, the chair of the South Carolina GOP, jumps dramatically into the lead for next RNC Chair, edging out Michael Steele by a two vote margin in the fourth ballot.
Katon Dawson 62
Michael Steele 60
Saul Anuzis 31
Ken Blackwell 15
This is shaping up to be a new direction v. social conservative showdown, one with racial components as well: Steele is African-American while Dawson once belonged to a white's only country club. The deciding factor, it seems, will be whom Anuzis and Blackwell instruct their backers to support.
UPDATE, 2:20: Incumbent Mike Duncan has officially dropped out of the running for RNC Chair, finalizing what was already shaping up as a bad day. With his votes freed up, Michael Steele vaults even further to the status of frontrunner. But Katon Dawson could be the biggest recipient of Duncan's departure, now assuming the mantle of the party's social conservative candidate. The fact that the sitting RNC chair is out after three ballots -- when he came into the election as the favorite to hold unto the post -- must be considered an upset as well as a reflection of just how unpopular people consider the status quo.
UPDATE: Michael Steele continues to inch upwards in the race for RNC chair, now opening up a small lead over incumbent Mike Duncan in the day's third ballot.
Michael Steele 51
Mike Duncan 44
Katon Dawson 34
Saul Anuzis 24
Ken Blackwell 15
Keep in mind that the former Lt. Gov. is viewed skeptically by a large swath of social conservatives. Should he prevail -- and there could be a few more ballots before a winner is decided -- the fallout will be fun to watch.
Michael Steele is making a last-minute charge to take over the reins of the Republican National Committee, and is in a dead tie with current chairman Mike Duncan after the second round of voting, according to figures provided by a GOP strategist.
Mike Duncan 48
Michael Steele 48
Katon Dawson 29
Saul Anuzis 24
Ken Blackwell 19
The results portend a good showing for the former Maryland Lieutenant Gov., who just a few days ago was rumored to be discussing the formulation of a coalition with another RNC candidate. They also reflect a disappointing first round of voting for Duncan, who was reportedly predicting a haul of 70 votes out of the gate (though that total may have been deliberately inflated by the opposition).
The first round of ballots had Duncan up by a scant six votes over Steele, a rough showing for an incumbent candidate.
Mike Duncan 52
Michael Steele 46
Katon Dawson 28
Saul Anuzis 22
Ken Blackwell 20
The RNC charter dictates that a candidate receives a simple majority of 85 votes from committee members in order to win the chairmanship. If no candidate gets this tally, the election moves on to additional rounds of voting. The format, especially in light of five candidates being in the race, is ripe for producing back-room dealing and horse trading, meaning that the election taking place today is far from over.